Monday, April 20, 2015

The Fourth Wall: "Little Does She Know..."

When you are seated in a theater, waiting for that magical moment when the lights dim, the curtain opens, and the transformation begins where you see a setting, possibly with characters in place or doing things, you have taken on a part of the magic of drama.  You are at once an eavesdropper, outside the events, yet able to see them, and you are inside, checking out the props to see if they are real and offer any clues.

You are separated by an imaginary barrier called "the fourth wall," the boundary between you and character.  Even though you have imagined touching, you are not supposed to.  Nor, to extend the doctrine of fairness, can the characters show any awareness of you.  To do so, the tradition goes, is to spoil the entire illusion of story.  

A good part of the illusion, to give an extreme example of it, would be you in some high school auditorium, watching a performance of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet.  You may have seen several other performances of each play, may, in fact, have seen them at The Globe Theater.  No matter.  For the moment, you are seeing the "real" characters, bringing the "real" story to life.

The Fourth wall applies as well to filmed versions of dramas.  You are watching the story, the characters are in a figurative sense trapped behind the fourth wall of film or the digital medium, its invisibility allowing you, as audience, to establish a chemistry with the characters as they ply the labyrinth of the story.

On occasion, you'll see a play or film in which one or more characters breaks the fourth wall, making direct contact you as audience.  The Stage Manager, a character in Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town, breaks the fourth wall, in his way drawing himself even closer to us and at the same time strengthening the possible metaphor that life is a play.

Woody Allen has a character in a film break the fourth wall by stepping right out of the film to make contact with someone in the audience.  Kevin Spacey, in the current TV drama House of Cards, with some frequency breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to us,in some cases even to the point of telling us what he will do next.

These examples and others like them are done with some deliberation on the part of the author, where some effect or narrative style wins the battle of the convention of the inviolate nature of the fourth wall.

There is a similar convention in fiction.  Samuel Richardson and Daniel DeFoe, who may be argued to be among the first of the English novelists, soon realized they trod a narrow cusp in their narratives, which were first considered to be accounts of actual events--see Pamela, Moll Flanders, and Robinson Crusoe.  Their authors had other technical matters, more related to actual places and events, to concern themselves with than any aspect of fourth wall.  

Both were born in the later 1600s, staying at least through the first third of the 1700s,  A third writer of that time, Henry Fielding, came along in the early 1700s.  Unlike DeFoe and Richardson, he openly employed trespass of the fourth wall, which is to say he was one of the first of the print medium story tellers who had no qualms about addressing the reader, often to great comic effect.

Another writer who came along a few years after Fielding, Laurence Sterne, expanded on breaking the fourth wall in his most famous work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy,in such mischievous and appealing ways that his influence may still be felt among twenty-first century writers.

Examples of fourth well trespass are easily found in the nineteenth century author, Henry James, even while he was in the process of pushing narrative to allow the reader access to the inner psychology and subconscious of his characters.  The twentieth century author, Aldous Huxley, bears some comparison with Henry Fielding in his frequent, often mordant addresses to the reader.

You believe the contemporary reader is not so much resistant to being spoken to as selective of the source.  The modern reader, you believe, is more likely to believe information coming from a character than an author.  Even unreliable narrators are given greater leeway than the author, however reliable she or he might sound.

The more accomplished among producing authors today are spoken of for such traits as their lyricism, their mordant wit, their pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, and their ability to keep us well concentrated on story in spite of potential anomalies.  They are also spoken of in relation to their optimism or pessimism, but it is rare for an author to be thought of as reliable or unreliable, even though she or he may bring forth any number of characters whose reliability is open to question.

You are as reliable as the characters living within you.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Borders of Taboo: Your Dark Side and You

From time to time over your years of teaching at the university undergraduate or graduate levels, you've been asked by students for letters of recommendation they might submit along with their application, either to a graduate school or to yet a higher plateau of graduate school.

You've also been asked for recommendations to potential employers, for blurbs to books. recommendations to literary agents and publishers, and to such scholarship-granting entities as the Guggenheim Foundation.  In turn, you have yourself applied for recommendations, all of which causes you to understand how in such large measure, recommendations are a part of your life.

In the book reviews and critical essays you've written, which are, after all, little more than in-print letters of recommendation, you've voiced positive opinions of narrators and their authors, although there have been times when your opinions were less than recommendations, which, of course, led to consequences.

In one notable instance, you were motivated to write a brief essay about a character you've long admired, learned a great deal from, and wish you had invented.  Among the many hundreds of memorable characters you've encountered, this one now has appeared to you in dreams more than once..It a is no exaggeration to say that within the last ten years or so, the day is rare when you don't think of him.

A part of your tribute to this character includes your recommendation for his election to the Character Hall of Fame or, better yet, the sainthood of being the patron saint of characters.  Of all the many characters you know and admire, he is the only one who has never appeared in a book or short story.  He is, of course, Wile E. Coyote.

Another character you'd be thrilled to recommend for either role, Character Hall of Fame or sainthood, would be your favorite villain, Count Isidore Ottavio Baldassore Fosco, an individual you consider from time to time ever since having read Wilkie Collins's 1860 novel, The Woman in White, a novel that contains yet another character of particular stature, herself a worthy candidate for the Character Hall of Fame, Mariam Halcombe, half-sister to the female lead, Laura Fairlie.  

Count Fosco, as his name suggests, is Italian; he is also overweight, conniving, manipulative, and quite intrigued by the potentials of criminal activity.  Inordinately fond of small animals, through much of The Woman in White,  he affects a brocade vest, in a pocket of which he keeps a pet mouse, taking it out from time to time to stroke its head or feed it a tidbit or delicacy.  Count Fosco was surely a role model for Dashiell Hammett's arch villain, Caspar Gutman, in The Maltese Falcon.

With these favorites of yours out for admiration, you feel the expansive temptation to add novels by Mark Twain and Charles Dickens in order to bring two favored first-person narrators forth to join the candidate list for Character Hall of Fame, plus the fact that these two novels, Huckleberry Finn and Great Expectations each has powerful supporting casts, but you will resist that temptation in favor of the observation that informs this essay.  

One great character in a novel is the equivalent of letting the genie out of the bottle.  Yes, that genie, and that bottle. Strong, motivated, inner-directed characters force the supporting cast to rise above their station or, if you will, they are the equivalent of the numerous eighteen-wheeler trucks that ply I-40, pulling along many a VW Bug in their slipstream.  They are dramatic forces to be reckoned with.

The reckoning begins with the writer's need to understand the imperative to consult his or her dark side, lest all the characters in a narrative sound alike, speak alike, and have similar agendas.  The ideal host or hostess plans a seating arrangement of guests with the notion of entertaining and engaging discourse in mind.  The writer needs to use the opposite approach, seating a perfervid vegan next to an individual who likes his roast rare, an arch conservative next to a left-leaning activist.

Your own ideas related to your own dark side involve codes of behavior, activities, and experiences you've gone out of your way not to breach, or times when you have trespassed on your own borders of taboo.  Stories are not about persons who get along, they are about individuals who try to find ways to accommodate their own dark sides and the contrary devises of others they are forced to deal with.  An individual who borrows from a loan shark must be desperate enough in story to do so rather than dumb enough.  By the same token, the loan shark in a story must have a weakness or need that a loan shark in reality is inoculated against.

An improbable-but-useful analogy is a traveling theatrical ensemble, say six men and six women, each of whom is aware of being inhabited by an inner Dr. Jekyll and an inner Mr. Hyde.  Their repertoire is chosen to trigger the maximum inner conflict on each member of the group, leading to uncontrollable responses when each begins to prepare for a new role.

Rumor has it that the fine actress, Vivien Leigh, herself no stranger to rehab facilities and sanitoria, was able to project such great waves of vulnerability in her role of Blanche Dubois (A Streetcar Named Desire) because the dark side vulnerability of the character pressed so many of her own buttons.

Good writing is not easy, nor is good reading.  Each involves catching tourist-class conveyances to places beyond our comfort zones, with crying babies in seats behind us, kicking and yowling and their harassed mothers, trying to shush them.  Individuals who claim reading and writing should be fun and easy are not good role models for basing characters, nor are they much work writing about.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Blog

What does the "tell" in I'll tell you a story, mean?

For most practical and most modern purposes, "tell" means what happens when one or more individuals step forth with the equivalent of "A funny thing happened to me on my way to work today."

For an individual to say the equivalent of that, such as, "You'll never guess who I saw today," the result is the same as a hypnotist telling us to close our eyes because our lids are growing heavy, or for a shaman to relate and then translate some vision she or he has seen.

In a seamless transition from the critical point of attracting our attention, the narrator character or characters yanks us back in time to the moment they first became aware of being in an out-of-the-ordinary situation.

Our curiosity to learn more about the "funny thing" or the who the narrator saw will make us complicit in one of the oldest conspiracies known to humankind, the shift from the immediate present to the imaginative place where story, already begun, now expands before the reader's sensitivity, beckoning the reader to come closer, closer to the heart of the story.

When we are thus complicit, we are on the high wire of belief, much like those fabled tight-rope walkers who stride their way from one point to another, over some gaping chasm.  Such things as a gust of wind, a darting bird, or some momentary loss of balance make the tight-rope walker vulnerable to a degree of aching discomfort to the viewer.  

In similar fashion, a single word, either added or neglected, can cause the story teller to tumble, just as the wind or bird or slip can doom the aerialist. The single wrong note reminds us we are being fed information we may already know or which we have no interest in knowing.

Like so much in dramatic narrative, "I will tell you a story" has evolved over the years of story being told, moving beyond such transformative introductions as "Once upon a time--" or "In a city far off on the other side of the world, there lived a man named John, who--".  Hearing such beginnings now still has the power to enchant us, but even as we shift into the opiate enchantment of story, we recognize we are being given a story from the past, told in the manner of the old ones, possibly from so far back in time that there was no written language to capture it.

The storyteller was a respected person, part actor, part shaman, or perhaps a group of storytellers, such as the chorus who presented the setup for the ancient Greek dramas..  Perhaps the chorus was reduced to one person, wearing a modern day duffel coat, to introduce to an audience the 1989 version of the Shakespeare play, Henry V.  That "chorus" was the distinguished actor, Sir Derek Jacobi, asking the audience to accept Kenneth Branagh as Henry and to imagine the minimalist stage of the Globe Theater, where the play was first presented, as the fields of France.

We are used to and grateful in our acceptance of a significant presence, "telling" us a story, particularly if the story is a play or film.  Thanks to the proliferation of film and TV drama, we are also aware of stories beginning with no setup, only characters at work, doing intriguing things, conveying the same, primal sense of activity we got as youngsters, picking up large rocks after rain storms had completed their course, then watching the scurry of bug activity.

Today, fifteen percent of the way into the twenty-first century, stories tend to begin with a character speaking directly to us, told in such a way that we feel we are experiencing the events of the story as the person relating it is sensing.  Or perhaps we hear from more than one individual, each giving us accounts of the same incident, leaving us to decide which character saw events the same way we as readers saw them.  

Still another possibility, that narrative approach sometimes called independent discourse or even free independent discourse, where a character is presented to us as a he or she, instead of the I, allowing us to eavesdrop on his or her experiences while going through the maze of events that comprise story.

Wonderful as story has been all along, these newer approaches make us sense something more immediate and close to the characters who are involved with them.  And in a real sense, we are.  Modern story grows less and less descriptive by degree and in consequence more evocative.  When we see settings and feelings having direct effects on characters, we are more likely to add our own judgement and interpretation.  We've always empathized with our favored characters.  

Even though most of us have come upon Samuel Richardson's still-in-print novel, Pamela, more than two hundred years after its publication, we are as amused by the thought of outraged readers when they learned it was fiction.  We may laugh at those innocent readers because we understand the difference between fiction and reality, but for those of us readers of Richardson who also wish to tell tales, there is that connection with Pamela of empathy.  We can't expect the outrage of readers feeling deceived by the discovery that there was no real Pamela, but we can strive for ways to cause the reader to believe, if for only a few moments, how real and lifelike our inventions are.

Friday, April 17, 2015

We Need to Talk

Over the past several years, police procedural TV dramas have made sport to the point of cliche about situations where officers on foot or car patrol are called to intervene in cases of domestic violence.  With a mounting inevitability, one or more of the police come away with bandages and possible scars to show for their efforts.  Something within the high-pitched fury of domestic violence seems to unite the domestics against the very team sent in to ease the situation.

Suspecting this trope might be the invention of non-violent writers, tossing ideas about in the writer's room, you've begun to look for well-founded refutations of the dynamic.  You've even tried that great leveling device known as Snopes.com, famous for its relentless debunking of urban myth.

An admitted sucker for the constructs taken for absolute fact that find their way to Snopes.com and other urban myth debunking sites, you've found no statement disagreeing with the potential risk to intervening police officers who'd been called to respond to a domestic violence situation.

Domestic violence, which is to say any domestic conflict that turns to the use of force, is an ongoing condition, triggered by a broad range of social, political, and gender conflicts.  As a phenomenon, it is awful.  It also represents some of the basic dynamics in story, including the progression from conversation to argument to physical engagement.  

Watching the set-ups for such events in televised drama, one cannot always predict where it will spring from or, if the writing staff is truly on its toes, how it will be presented in counterpoint.  By this, you mean a circumstance where the domestic violence in an upper class family might become over time physical enough to send a wife or child to seek the services of cosmetic plastic surgery while, in stark contrast, the domestic violence in a working class family might seem mild in its extreme of verbal taunting rather than physicality.

You're venturing the opinion that a significant dynamic is domestic violence is the frustration that comes from not having one's opinion or point of view respected and acknowledged.  Also a potential cause of the frustration and subsequent descent into acting-out rage is the ironic condition inherent in most story of communication gone wrong.

Thanks to the novels of Cormack McCarthy and in particular the motion picture version of his novel, No Country for Old Men, lesser works have featured to the point of cliche the drug deal gone wrong.  You read this as an extension of the domestic violence trope.  Because of misunderstandings, betrayals, and unforeseen interventions, things go wrong.

Story, itself, begins when something goes wrong, when stasis is interrupted.  Someone decides to step in, change the game plan, then make off with "the" money and/or "the" swag, which may be some illegal substance or stolen property.  "The" money represents the fives and tens and twenties from the working class poor, who are addicted to some substance they are willing to pay for, making them, in Marxist critical theory, victims of at least one level of exploitation.

Given your own upbringing and experiences, you are a good candidate for identifying with the women or children victims of domestic violence.  No surprise whatsoever that you identified so strongly with the five-year-old narrator of Emma Donogue's impressive novel, Room, in which domestic violence is exacerbated to the point of a young woman  and her five-year-old son are held captive, the woman as a sex slave, the narrator as the son of the captor..

Although violence of a physical nature is not a part of your active vocabulary, noir fiction and its close cousin, hardboiled fiction, are, mixed with measures of irony and the humor of missed connections.  Domestic violence is an aspect of much of Raymond Carver's short stories and although there are no blackened eyes or the need to wear sunglasses to cover bruises, John Cheever's short fiction seems to ripple with the subterranean current of domestic violence.

Thus, within a few paragraphs, you've gone from police, stepping in on an all-out husband-wife or lover-lover or parent-child squabble to an incident where the intervening cops, who wish to restore some form of protocol if not logic or sense, now become at risk from the very individuals they'd thought to save from tearing one another apart.

You see it bubbling just below the surface when individuals tell one another, "We need to talk." You watch closely to see where it will go.  We all of us have the potential for domestic violence; it is no comfort for many of us, you included, to congratulate ourself that we have not acted out, stepped over certain boundaries we consider reprehensible.  You have slammed enough doors in your time, thrown at least one typewriter and any number of safety razors out various windows, said, "Well if that's the way you feel, fuck you," enough times to be aware of the inner animal of rage as it turns over within you and stretches its legs.

You've created an array of language-oriented responses to insulate these feelings, suggesting the possibility of you becoming civilized.  But the out-of-work characters, milling about within you, are looking for starring roles.  Sometimes you watch them and wonder what would happen to you if they got cast to be the Mr. Hyde to your Dr. Jekyll.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Will Climate Change Effect Your Writing?

If there were any question in your mind about the fact of being immersed in a rich and fecund era of filmed drama, the question was shut down today.  

You luxuriated in the awareness that you could, if you were to wish to do so, stream episodes of five or six major television hallmarks, representing intelligent pursuit of story, eclectic subject matter, and intense, evocative acting.  The final nail to set the argument in place was the availability of segment two of Wolf Hall, the adaptation of Hilary Mantel's glorious historical novel.

In earlier years, while you were in the process of assembling an inner stairway to your present plateau of vision and enjoyment, your most favored TV feature, your weekly must-see, was the series Inside the Actor's Studio.  

In truth, you'd begun to watch Inside the Actor's Studio because you'd made the connection:  James Lipton, the host of the program and, himself a principal at The Actor's Studio in New York, was the son of one of your more valued authors, the critic, poet, and essayist, Lawrence Lipton.  Father had little to say of son, his occasional remarks suggesting a serious rift.

Lipton had been dead some years--since 1975--before Inside the Actor's Studio came to life as a visible entity.  Your first visions of the son were so removed from the demeanor and warmth of the father that you took an immediate dislike to the son.  

Watching subsequent episodes of the TV presentation became a convoluted way of reliving your admiration for the father and the effect of his literary journey on you, his editor, at once aware of enormous differences between the two of you and admiring the stamina, professionalism, and wit.  Mixed into the equation, Lawrence Lipton's own reminiscences of his earlier marriage to the mystery writer, Craig Rice.

Rice, an energetic writer from the hardboiled detective genre, led a troubled life, involving alcoholism, glaucoma, loss of hearing, and bi-polar moods, leading to her need to rely on Lipton in much the same way Lillian Hellman relied upon Dashiel Hammett.

With no awareness he was doing so, James Lipton, simply because he was his father's son, drew you into the TV show he produced, wrote, and largely directed for the Bravo network.  Soon, you were listening to the actor guests, speaking of their craft and careers, absorbing facts you would not begin consciously to put to work for years to come.  

Among such facts was the growing awareness on your part from watching and rewatching interviews, the fact of many actors preference for roles at some measure away from their own personality and their accompanying distaste for roles in which they considered the character to be portrayed quite close to their own individuality.

Easier to go to the remote for creativity, most of the interviewed actors said.  Always the nagging suspicion, when the character to be portrayed was closer to home, that the actor was merely being him-or-herself and, thus, less likely to be an original creation as it was a copying from the self.

Only today, you receive in your email, catching your email spam guard off duty, an invitation to subscribe to one or more of a series of actor's workshops, where one of the focuses  on:  "Two characters are then derived from your personal acting habit patterns, Character # 1, who conforms to those acting habit patterns, and Character # 2, whose patterns directly oppose your habitual and customary acting choices, revealing rarely experienced physical, vocal, and emotional possibilities."

You are left to investigate and wonder about possible parallels and similarities in which you substitute Character # 1 and Character #2 with such possibilities as Writer #1 and Writer #2, both of whom are, of course, you.

In addition, more than one of these notes to yourself, begun in 2007, contain references and investigations of the number of squatter selves there are, residing within the house that is you.

You acknowledge at least two writerly presences, one favoring long, Faulknerian sentences which in effect span differing time time or emotion zones, the other more conversational, short, chipper, not always complete sentences.

To be considered and continued:  If you are going to be writing as other characters, you need to write away from your personal writing habit patterns and toward the personal writing habit patterns of the individuals of whom you write.  The better able you are to do this, the better able you will be to remove yourself from the story, allowing them to come forth from under your shadow and into the sunlight or gloom of their own individual climate.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Makeover Writer

The makeover has become a popular phenomenon of long standing diversity.  Some makeover clients wish their wardrobe and personal appearance "made over," others wish to have their approach to the work market or business sense done to.

Yet others seek to have their living and/or office spaces renovated, and in an extreme but no less sincere way, some individuals wish to have their scholastic background made over, whereupon they set forth in pursuit of a graduate degree in some discipline or other.

You could--and now do--say some individuals engage your editorial services to undertake a makeover on a literary project, while yet others, curious about the literary life and the storytelling process attached to it, wish to learn a few of the basics in order to allow them to plunge into the curious, precarious, and earthshaking world of publication.

A good example of this latter group approached you eight or ten years ago, claiming to have accomplished a number of successful years as an attorney in which he'd billed amounts approaching three-quarters of a million dollars a year.  "The law has taught me to be conservative and patient,"  he said, "and so my question to you is how long will it take you to get me up to two-fifty thousand a year in writing?"

You, who have never made anything approaching two hundred fifty thousand a year from writing or anything else, did not know what to say.  But the matter remained with you, braided as it was into thoughts of make over and of some individuals, so eager and impatient to enter the world of publishing that they have no idea what the landscape of publishing is, much less the landscape of story, drama, memorable characters who may not be by any means moral paradigms or even, for that matter, very nice individuals.

If this sounds as though you are singling out individuals who are eager to be published as a singular example of impatient amateurs, you hasten to leaven this approach with your belief that all artistic arenas attract individuals who wish entry without proper learning or background, or understanding or, dare you add this to your list, skills.  

You write of your experiences as a writer, an editor, and a teacher, in the process turning your disdain toward self-publishing, where, on more occasions that you care to recall or detail, you've seen impatience tip the balance from good sense into disaster.  


You believe, and have begun to collect data on other approaches to artistry and professionalism such as sculpting, acting, photography, and the music professions.  And closer to home, you are aware of individuals who call themselves editors for the most flimsy of reasons, because they love words and because they read books. 

There is no hint of irony or exaggeration hidden within your belief that a contemporary automobile mechanic would need a thorough understanding of the internal combustion engine, with the possibility of a specialty in diesel engines and the fast-growing hybrid mechanics, which require understanding of electricity, the difference between an engine and a motor, and some grasp of how natural gas has become a fuel of substance.  Such a background is a given.  

The same standard does not, in your experience, apply to those you chose to think of as entry-level composers, some of whom bring energy and originality to their material, but who simultaneously see story in the same terms a theoretical applicant for a mechanic's job at a Porsche or Ferrari dealership might see the internal combustion engine as though it were powering a Model A or T Ford.

You understand this because it was you, for the longest time, powered by enthusiasm, energy, a vast reservoir of impatience, and the mistaken belief that the things by other authors you read and admired came forth almost directly as published, with no or little hint of revision or editorial concern.

You understand this only because of the enormous quantity of books and journals you've read, and the even greater quantity of crumpled wads of manuscript paper in the pre-computer typewriter days and now the considerable number of times you've hit the Select All key that outlines a paragraph, a page, perhaps even pages of a manuscript, and then hit the delete button, sending the material to the waste basket, where it may be saved, but where it should be allowed to reside.

You understand this because of the incredible number of manuscript submissions you read as an editor, the ones you argued to take on, and the work they required, even when they came from writers at the peak of their storytelling powers.

You understand this from all the bad printed books you've read, from your understanding of the other side of the bestseller metric, that limbo place in the massmarket publishing trade where returns on a given title are often at the fifty percent level, or higher.  

You understand this as a matter of taste, in which some of your least favorite books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and where some of the titles you acquired in your tenure as an editor barely squeaked by the necessary costs to produce and distribute them.

Every time you sit to compose, there are these understandings, orbiting about you that you must hold at bay until you've finished composing for the day, and now you can try afresh to approach revision with a practiced eye.




Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Big Three

Among the pocket-sized notebooks you carry with you, three have become the most pocket worn. These include a notebook devoted to novels you've read and reread to the point where they seem to have become a special part of your life, even though they deal with events remote from your life.

These hundred or so novels have also given you incidents wherein editors have said in so many words, Enough, already with Ahab and Ishmael and the great white whale; enough with Pip, the young cabin boy who goes lost for a time and is never the same again, accordingly having a remarkable effect on Ahab.

And these same editors have told you, Enough, already, with the likes of Wile E. Coyote.  And although there are some characters from plays, which certainly bear dramatic kinship with novels, you have heard such admonishments as, Enough with Macbeth, enough with the three witches.

But neither these characters nor the novels and plays in which they appeared are content to be silences.  Instead, they appear to be asking you to find a way to write a book about them, doing so in a way where you can say to potential readers, Alright, now you need to find your own novels and characters that define and delight and troll and follow you about,



There is also a notebook filled with the names of characters from the books of other writers, and a notebook filled with brief descriptions of characters of your own invention, men, women, and young persons who have come to you in dreams or dream-like states, revealing definitive secrets about themselves.


One of these latter characters is based on a man who was your closest friend for many years.  The character seems to have his gentle traits, many of his interests, and quite a few of his abilities.  But while your friend, in real life, was never a fence or in any way dealt with stolen goods, this character, in some ways like Gatsby, is rumored to have done so.

Other of these characters seem to have appeared before you, wishing to be given the chance to show you what delightful and engaging persons they might be, were they to be allowed the means to interact with their own ensemble groups of friends and associates.  They are persuasive to the point where you are not certain they are to be trusted.  They might not steal your silverware, although that is a poor example, because your silverware is not all that worth stealing; they might, however, steal the silverware of your friends and the silverware of the characters you do use.

At any given moment in your daily routine, these characters buoy your imagination and enthusiasm in ways some of the more remarkable dogs and cats in your life have enlivened your sense of awareness and purpose.  Here you are, launched into your eighth decade, beset by a need to live well into your ninth decade, aware of your rate of productivity, concerned by the amount of effort and process necessary for you to produce work that will satisfy you.  This has little to do with any notion of slowing down on your part, rather instead with the understanding, at last, of the necessary effort to get down what you wish.

You carry about other notebooks, either the reliable Moleskines, or your more recent discovery, Field Notes.  Many of these begin their life with you as one thing, then with dispatch and opportunism, become something quite else.  

You've learned to give headings or date lines to the various types of notes, which can range from anything to what at first blush seem to be useful things to remember from faculty meetings to outright admissions that no such usefulness is to be had, followed by an end date and time so that you will not get notes conflated with previous or future notes within the same booklet.

All your notebooks define you; small question about that, but the Big Three, the list of novels, and the two separate collections of characters, define a less scattered, less random image of you, as the complex and notional entity you are, but also, in a larger sense, as a record of your education process, the subjects you've grappled with, the directions these educational arm wrestling sessions have led you, and your own need for future education.  

Most surprising of all to you, the fact that these three, The Big Three, lead you to reconsider things you once thought to be of no use to you or, indeed, things you grappled with in previous times with no successful outcome.  

Your notes not only define you, they suggest the work to be done.